In 1987 the band U2 came out with an album called the Joshua Tree . I didn’t really pay much attention to the album… at first. By the summer of 1988 I was completely addicted to U2 and their music. The Joshua Tree was the first com pact disc I ever bought. Upon a dock I would lay staring up at the night time sky, I had a portable cd player with headphones . I could fee the gentle nudge of waves moving the dock to and fro. The Joshua Tree album served as a perfect soundtrack, Songs that spoke to my youth of the endless possibilities in a star filled sky, As years passed I came to see the Joshua Tree album as an extraordinary work of art. I regret having missed out on the Joshua Tree tour. The music was new and full of fire in 1987, In 1992 when I finally did catch a U2 concert the band had changed their look. Zoo TV was the new idea , The show was really good to be sure but I was looking for 1987. I knew that I had missed out on something really special. If I had to describe U2 using only a single word, the word would be unity. Unity is something Ireland has been looking for, for centuries. (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)The name U2 could be taken to mean – “You, as well “.An invitation from the band, possibly?
“We’ve Got to Carry Each Other…”
In 2002 1 got the idea to go out searching for the U2 tree. I went out looking for a bit of 1987. I was seeking a hidden truth, I wanted to see a place where the streets had no name, Bono’s lyrics are clearly illustrated by the desert landscape. I had read that the tree had fallen over and died around 2000. So I thought the tree would make an appropriate subject for a plaque , something to commemorate the tree and the era that it had come to symbolize. I wanted to permanently mark the spot where U2’s tree had once stood. My involvement with the plaque and the tree has become like a handshake with the past.
We arrived at the site a bit later than I was originally planning. A flat tire and Friday rush-hour traffic had effectively seen to our delay. It was a few minutes after 2 a.m. when we arrived. An adequate description of our location would need to include the word remote. Following my lead a friend drove off the pavement and headed several yards down a dirt road. Stepping out of my Jeep I immediately looked up to the sky. I have always had a wandering eye for nighttime skies. The view was simply breath taking on that clear desert night. A meteorite streaked through the blackness in a downward arch. There was no time to waste. We loaded up with supplies and walked towards the spot. I alone knew the general area where we were heading. There was a bit of a chill in the air, which quickly passed when work began. I was carrying a plastic milk crate that contained 1-gallon jugs of water. One of my friends had a similar crate, which also held gallon size water jugs. The other friend had the task of moving concrete in a wheelbarrow. Quickly it became apparent that the wheelbarrow was not going to be of much use. A 94lbs. bag of concrete made the wheelbarrow carve a trench in the loose sandy soil. We stopped for a second to think the matter over. After a few breaths I thought about how to best proceed. The sensible approach seemed to be to move all the light weight supplies first and then deal with the issue of the concrete.
I asked the guys to stay put and wait while I walked out to locate the spot. The idea being not to have everyone following me around until I got my bearings straight! So I ventured out into the blackest desert night imaginable. I had planned it this way. I wanted there to be no moonlight to illuminate our presence here. The flashlight in my hands seemed so insignificant when compared to the complete blackness of the night. This was one of those times when you might catch yourself thinking irrational thoughts. It would really be bad if the batteries in my flashlight died right now! I counted my paces as I walked away from the spot where my friends were standing. When I reached the 100 pace mark I turned to signal my friends. Their surprise at how far I had traveled was evident. Only six hundred some odd paces more and I’ll be close to the area I want to be. I felt a real sense of isolation and loneliness hiking out there at night. The fact that my friends were only a few hundred yards away seemed no real comfort. After another minute of steady walking I came upon the two small Joshua trees I had seen the previous day. These trees are in close proximity to one another. I knew that I was close to my destination, a tall beanpole shaped tree and the landmark I was seeking. Turning around I faced the direction where my friends stood waiting. I was amazed that I could just barely see their lights! I waved my light and gave a shout. A few more minutes passed before the guys joined me. We walked towards the beanpole. Another minute passes and I’m anxious to show the guys what I had discovered just a day earlier! I turned and pointed my flashlight at the spot and announced that we have arrived! We took a good look around. There were a few items placed about the tree. Messages spelled out with stones by previous visitors. U2 fans! You gotta love ’em! We spent a few minutes by the fallen tree talking things over and planning how to proceed. Over the course of the next two hours we made several trips back and forth. Shovels, Buckets, water, wood, a propane lantern, walkie-talkie radios and various other items.
Standing back at the cars we thought about how to resolve the concrete dilema. We each grabbed a sack of concrete. My friend managed to load a sack over his shoulder and walk a few paces. I didn’t even manage getting the sack over my shoulder. Next we grabbed a plastic tub used for mixing concrete. We placed a sack of concrete inside the tub. The two of us each grabbed a side and in unison lifted the plastic tub. We walked about 50 paces and quickly came to the realization that a different method would be necessary. We tried supporting a concrete sack upon a couple of planks of wood. One busted sack and two tired guys later we were no closer to getting the 11 sacks of concrete out to the tree. The time was about 4am. Allow me to clarify my statement. We were no closer to resolving how to transport 10 sacks of concrete to the tree. My other friend had managed to some how transport a sack of concrete all the way to the tree. He did this over rough sandy desert terrain in the dark! The mere act of walking what I would estimate to be about a 1/2 mile from the road to the tree would be a bit of a workout for most people. I started to think that I would be content if we could manage getting the concrete to the tree by sunrise. A friend of mine from L.A. had mentioned long ago that I should forget the whole wheelbarrow idea. He said just drive the concrete out to the spot. I had resisted the idea because of the possibility of damage to the land as well as to my Jeep. Now That we were out here actually installing the plaque the decision had become quite simple. I realized that this was the only viable choice.
With that we loaded all of the sacks of concrete into the back of my Jeep. Some of the sacks looked to be near the point of bursting. Because of this I was wary of trying to reposition any of the sacks. So I left the back hatch open and began to drive. I knew that this was the right decision. I felt a bit apprehensive but I realized this was the only way. Very slowly I drove onto the field. The kind of speeds I’m talking about here range from between 1 – 3 miles per hour. The visibility was really poor. An abundance of rocks and sagebrush covered much of the field. The sagebrush partially cloaked the true curvature of the terrain. I knew that I had to keep driving without stopping. To have stopped might have meant getting stranded. Not what I was hoping for at all! I drove back and forth in an effort to evade potential hazards. The field had many washes that fingered along connecting and dividing from one another. The washes contain an abundence of soft loose sand, a definite hazard. The drive was particularly rough. I felt my Jeep rise up on a rocky patch of land. I heard a dull thud from behind me. I could make out the vague shape of what looked like a sack on the ground behind my Jeep. I stopped jumped out grabbed the concrete and loaded it back inside. Another minute of driving and many lumps later I arrived at the tree. My friends approached to lend a hand unloading the concrete. The sky was still nice and dark. We had everything we needed to get started. So I asked the guys to start organizing things while I drove back to park by the road. I engaged the clutch rolled three feet forward and stopped. My tires were spinning in the sand! I put the Jeep in reverse and slowly engaged the clutch. I went backwards a few feet and stopped my tires were spinning once again. I shifted back into first, returned to my previous position, and kicked up some more sand. The thought struck me that there was an important difference between the trip out here and my return attempt. The difference being the matter of about 1000 lbs. of concrete and a bronze plaque that weighed in at around 100 lbs. So I asked my faithful crew to sit in the back end of my Jeep and pretend to be about 3 times their normal weight. The ride back was a smashing success in more ways than one!
We walked back towards the tree. I could see the abandoned wheelbarrow before me. I took hold of the wooden handles and began pushing. My left hand acted as a clamp between a flashlight and the wheelbarrow handel. The sack of concrete within the wheelbarrow cheerfully made its silent presence known. My crew were keeping up a good walking pace. I soon fell behind which was o.k. by me. I was pushing what felt to be about 200 lbs. across sandy terrain. I was almost to the tree when I heard my friends yelling my name. I looked in their direction but could not see a thing. The lantern had already been extinguished. They told me to get down because of the approaching headlights on the highway. I was fairly tired so I gave the wheelbarrow a rest and crouched down looking towards the road. The particular stretch of highway that leads to the tree does a 120-degree elbow. Our vehicles were parked some 30 yards from the elbow off on a dirt path. From our position you could see any approaching vehicle a few miles in advance. The vehicle, a tractor-trailer, approached from the West and slowed to a stop! The driver was close enough to see our parked cars. The truck pulled onto the shoulder that we had used earlier when parking our cars. The truck sat still for a moment. Then the truck slowly began to pull out on to the highway again. The driver was making a u-turn?! After turning, the truck straighted out once again and came to a stop. A powerful spot light flashed on instantly illuminating our parked cars. The light swiveled out across the field and made a few passes. Several seconds later the driver switched off the light. The truck made another u- turn and once again began heading East. A minute later I was standing next to my friends. We Shared what little insights we had from the curious event. At this point nothing shy of an armored battalion was going to slow me down. I think my crew felt the same way. The time was 5 a.m. and the first lights of the approaching dawn were in the sky. Time to do this! We assembled the 2 x 6 wooden planks that we used as forms for the concrete. The sound of nails being hammered was unusually loud to my ears, which had grown accustomed to the silence. I asked the guys where they thought we should put the plaque? One took the form and placed it where he thought it should go. I grabbed a shovel and using the blade, traced the outline of the form in the sand. For the next several minutes we dug and removed sand from the chosen spot. We continued to keep a watch out for passing vehicles. Another minute passed with sand flying in ever direction. We set the form in the pit that we had excavated. It was time to mix a batch of concrete. I must say that the concrete mixing part of the installation went quickly and efficiently. Our practice session from three weeks prior was really paying off. After having mixed our third or fourth batch of concrete I discovered that we did not have the text bar section of the plaque. I asked one of the guys if he would go and retrieve the section. He headed back towards the cars and we continued mixing concrete. More traffic started passing through the area. More light crept into the sky. My friend returned with the section of plaque. The sun was definitely on its way. It was almost light enough to see without the aid of flashlights. I was unsure how to proceed. There was a good chance of us being observed. We discussed our options. I finally said let’s finish this now. I had the feeling we had better start collecting items and taking them back to the cars. My other friend proceeded to grab a bunch of tools and discarded concrete sacks. We no longer needed the flashlights to see. We pressed the two sections of plaque into the finished concrete slab. Another minute of surface trowling and our task was complete! The sun was fully above the horizon. We snapped a few shots with a camera, collected what we could with our hands, and walked at a steady pace towards the cars. I felt an unbelievable sense of accomplishment. I was very proud of how the three of us had handled things. We had installed the plaque in spite of a late start. It would not have happened if any one of us had not been there. we had pulled it off! We drove our vehicles onto the highway heading West. After about 7 miles of driving we passed a sheriffs patrol car heading East in the direction of the tree. Timing is important in life.